Richard "Dickie" George, technical director of NSA's Information Assurance Directorate, is pictured in his NSA office
Richard "Dickie" George, technical director of NSA's Information Assurance Directorate, is pictured in his NSA office in Fort Meade, Maryland, in this June 2011 file photo. The National Security Agency has a challenge for hackers who think they're hot stuff: prove it by working on the "hardest problems on Earth." Computer hacker skills are in great demand in the U.S. government to fight the cyber wars that pose a growing national security threat -- and they are in short supply. Reuters

Hackers attending this year's DEF CON conference in Las Vegas, an annual gathering of the hacking community, can add a possible activity to attending speeches, browsing new technology and meeting other hackers: being recuited for a government job.

Numerous government agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon have been the targets of cyber attacks that seek to pilfer classified information, with many of the hacks appearing to originate from nation states like China rather than rogue individuals. In recognition of the growing threat, the National Security Agency is mounting an aggressive push to hire people who understand cyber warfare -- including the hackers who populate DEF CON.

"Today it's cyberwarriors that we're looking for, not rocket scientists," Richard George, technical director of the NSA's cyber defenses, told Reuters. "That's the race that we're in today. And we need the best and brightest to be ready to take on this cyberwarrior status."

George said that the NSA was struggling to find enough qualified people to do the personnel, as competition from other government agencies and from corporations made competent hackers a valuable commodity.

"We are straining to hire the people that we need," he said.

Hackers wary of straitlaced government culture shouldn't be apprehensive, George said, pointing to an eccentric workforce that he characterized as a "collection of geeks." Jeff Moss, a hacker known as Dark Tangent who founded DEF CON and advises the Department of Homeland Security on cyber security, said that finding the right people for the job was not a matter of looking at a resume.

"They need people with the hacker skill set, hacker mind-set," Moss said. "It's not like you go to a hacker university and get blessed with a badge that says you're a hacker. It's a self-appointed label - you think like one or you don't."

DEF CON's website touts the event, which began in 1993, as the "world's longest running and largest underground hacking conference." The event costs $150 dollars -- in cash, never credit cards or checks -- and the website also cautions first time visitors about a typically large government presence.

"Please be aware that if you engage in illegal activities there is a large contingency of feds that attend DEF CON," the website says. "Talking about how you are going to bomb the RNC convention in front of an FBI agent is a Career Limiting Move!"